If you ask 10 people you'll probably get 10 very different answers. At one end of the crunchy spectrum, you'll get people who say sustainable is taking only 20% of their earth share (about 1 acre) in goods and resources. At the other end on the decidedly delusional end of the spectrum, you'll get someone who says that sustainable is ensuring their hand-scraped mahogany floors are imported from Borneo from only Orangutan friendly and selectively harvested virgin forests. Or even better, the person who buys a new Hybrid car every 2 years when it takes about 6 years to payoff the savings of going from regular gas to hybrid.
I'm somewhere in the middle there.
The real question is, what level of sustainability can I, and all my world neighbors, live with and remain reasonable yet still provide an avenue towards the future?
I've been reading Radical Simplicity, and while I have a whopper of a book review to be posted at a future date, it did make me think more about what sustainability means to me and how sustainable such sustainability is.
Now say that three times fast for a prize!
At either end of the spectrum it is unworkable in the long term for humanity.
Cures for cancer aren't developed in mud huts by people who will only use 1 acre of total global resources. That won't even get them a single box of sterile test tubes. It won't develop new ways to manufacture that use less virgin material, that too must happen in a lab where a few square feet equals that 1 acre of resouces. And people who dedicate their lives to these pursuits aren't going get the education to do that research since each student month of university time equals 1 acre or so.
One piece of immutable wisdom comes to mind. If mankind ceases to use their current technology for 30 years, a single learning generation, then they will never rise again. Ever. Retrace to the Stone age then stop for all of the future of our species.
Why? Sideline digression:
Because getting up to the bronze age, iron age and industrial age calls for surface materials for one. Being able to glean copper from rocks laying around or extract iron at low temperatures from nice chunky surface deposits and a hundred other things. None of that is available and will never be available again. Right now our metal resouces have become so far removed from the surface that it has actually become profitable to glean nodules of magnesium from the very deep sea floor where they precipitate out. If you can imagine how much in resources and ingenuity that takes, then you can see why no stone age person is going to make the transition to any metal age should all our technology and know-how go away via attrition in time.
To pre-argue all the suppositions others could make, I probably could go on for days and pages, but suffice it to say that to get from there to here, stones to space shuttles, requires a large middle portion that we simply couldn't re-create.
Sideline digression over!
In the end, if we take our two extremes above, these are the two worlds we eventually get:
One, we totally embrace the back to nature movement and a world we make by hand. If we all did it at once, for a few generations we'dl enjoy the peace of ignorance with our leftovers but the inevitable slide into early death by disease, losing half the children we bear, starvation when a year is bad and all the things that come from a stone age life will happen. A few hundred years and the stories of our lives today will be like magic tales and the people alive then will most certainly not share our idyllic view of their lives. And what happened to the rest of the world during this time doesn't bear thinking about.
Two, we totally embrace development. Humans being what they are, it is almost certain to lead to a world as bad as the one from the first choice. In this Rush Limbaugh/Sean Hannity Cash Is King world, no fictional dystopia could really depict what we'll probably wind up with and the results beggar description, but surely a world unfit to live in save for the very few fortunate ones is not out of the question. And in the end, what happens to them?
For me, who is somewhere in the middle, I'd prefer we look to the future with hope and reason and grit our teeth when development goes through times that seem wasteful and learn from the mistake not to do it again.
Our species may struggle through this delicate period and we are faced with the bad effects of changing things where we shouldn't have and a population that behaves more like locusts than custodians, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Change our individual ways but always have the next year and generation in mind as well as the next development technologically. Support that which achieves the goal of a better future and eschew that which uses resources for no real purpose. Raise our children in nature and to appreciate it, while ensuring they know as much as they can get into their heads educationally and let them be scientists without prejudice.
In short, I would take a third choice: To think well and hard before we leap, with every leap we take, but never be afraid of the jump. Work to anticipate the consequences of everything we change and then forge ahead.
So where is it that people like me, and maybe like you, can make a difference without sabotaging our future? Again, what is sustainability in our small part of the world?
I think it means waste not, want not in its purest form. The 3 R's in today's catchy terms but with a little more thinking than a 30 second TV spot gives.
Perhaps I'm getting a bit preachy here, and I do apologize. The word sustainable gets bandied about so much with so many different meanings that the importance of the word is getting lost in hyperbole and advertising and political infighting. And I wanted to get out there what I thought and even more importantly, find out what others think. So, what do you think?
I'd really like to know how you define sustainability and where you think you are at in the spectrum.